Tatyana Kasatkina: «What if we started to pay less attention to appearances»
Vladimir Legoyda
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Tatiana, you made an interesting statement about the second reading. You said, there is a difference between the first reading and the second reading. No doubt, reading in principle trains patience, which is why I'm asking this question now. Please correct me if I’m wrong. What you're saying is, we get to know the author by and large from the second reading. Because the first reading apparently launches triggers which resonate...


...resonate with what you can relate to, with what you understand well. However, it's in fact about you, not about the author. You made a brilliant comparison ‘the second reading is akin to a girl starting to notice that her chosen one is short and black-haired’.

While she thought that he is tall and blond. 

Yeah, he's blond. Well, for us black-haired people, black hair seems normal anyway. (Laughing.) As for the question, I have several questions. First, when you read a book for the first time and find something that you can relate to, can it also be what the author wanted to say? Like what you experienced when you read The Idiot by Dostoyevsky at the age of 11. That wasn't just about you, was it? The second question: if I got you right, the second reading has to happen right away. Because if I re-read a book in five years, it will be the first reading again, because I have already changed a lot, that's the point.

Yes, I agree, the second reading is the second reading when it happens shortly after the first reading. It is exactly re-reading a book, not let’s say three attempts… 

In a lifetime. 

… at the same book with 20-year gaps. Well, of course the author could resonate with my personal request and indeed it may be what he meant to offer for consideration. But there is, so to speak, no guarantee.  

Furthermore, I would even say it is affirmation. This is why we love authors. 

Makar Devushkin, the main character in Dostoevsky’s novel Poor Folk comments on Pushkin's The Stationmaster: "You read it as if you've written it yourself."


So, this resonated with me, but that doesn't mean that I heard something new. We prefer affirmations to something new. Meanwhile, the great texts that are worth talking about in general, they can tell us much more than we can learn from them just by recognizing ourselves in them. Maybe they give us answers to questions that have not yet been posed. And again, Dostoevsky takes an interesting look at this impact of a work of art, which may turn out to be similar to a sacred memory of childhood, similar to an event of the past.

Yes, I see.

It could not have worked then and was forgotten. But later…

It may save you. 

...when you find yourself in a critical situation, it will save you, it will emerge for the first time with all its facets.

And then you will look at this situation with new eyes. A work of art is a thing that can remain concealed behind the plot for a very long time. But one day 20 years later it dawns on you, ‘My God, he was talking about the same thing! Now I'm facing what he was talking about’. So it's still such a long-playing, long-lasting thing. Above all, it can work even if you don’t re-read the book. That is, it is sown and it will sprout in the right circumstances as an amazing sapling you never expected to see.

Well, before you answer my next question, let me clarify it a bit, because you seem to have answered it partially. You and I understand that the vast majority of people have read the vast majority of books only once.

Oh, yes. 

Is there any hope then? Any hope that it will ever work?

Yes, exactly. Hoping that it will be called for later. 

If we follow your logic that the author’s intention is revealed after the second reading or the third or the forth, and so forth, we can say that in most cases the reader does not reach the author.

No, unless it is the reader’s intention. Moreover, we don’t even reach our interlocutor in a conversation, unless it is our intention. We communicate with each other superficially. And usually it’s a "mirroring" kind of communication.

You are right.

Like, I used you to talk to myself.

Yes, to myself. 

That is, real communication is always an effort. Otherwise, we are locked in the shell of our own selves. We may be bored there, we may not feel good there at all. But we just don't know how to get out of it. I think, one of the tasks of teaching literature at school in general is just training students to come out of the shell. This is a very important human skill.

Tatiana, I would like to ask you more about the understanding of the author. You coined another brilliant maxim once, saying that we are the ones who must understand, not be understood. We understand something from the first reading, from the second one. But what does it mean to understand the author? Let’s take Dovlatov, what do you think about his statement? I think it's very accurate. In his notebooks he has this phrase...

I like him, as well as black-haired men. (Laughing.)

Thank you for this. Dovlatov says that any literary matter is divided into three areas: what the author wanted to express, what he managed to express (not always the same), and what he expressed unintentionally. In fact, the third area seems to include what you described as ‘recognizing ourselves’. He may have implied something else, but this is what I read. It may also include something that is neither about me, nor about the author. So how do we deal with it? When it comes to understanding, is it about what he wanted, or what he managed, or about what? Or is Dovlatov wrong?

Well, first of all, I'm convinced that each high-profile author presents his own theory of creativity in his works. In other words, what Dovlatov said is at least true for Dovlatov's writing.

Yes, it is.

Dostoevsky wrote about a different concept. He wrote about artistry, he described it as the writer's ability to express his idea in the characters and images of novel in such a way that the reader understands this idea in the same way as the author understood it when he was writing the novel. We don’t know if he fulfilled it himself, he doesn’t say that he managed to. 

Yes, I see.

He always had an issue with it. Up until The Brothers Karamazov, none of his readers understood him. But he began to be understood at the turn of the century. I mean, he educated his reader, he brought up his reader. He set the bar high. That is, he expected to be fully understood if he was artistic enough. Is it what Dovlatov is talking about? Naturally, there are things that are expressed, so to speak, regardless of the writer, because any plot, any story is much deeper than the author’s message, if he is telling his own story. As for  Dostoevsky, he never considers the story he's writing as a story of his life. 

No, he doesn’t. 

His stories are much more than that. A lot depends on the writer though. Very often the author’s personal story resonates because it is congruent with the reader. Is seems to me sometimes that art is in a sense either the remnants of a former common nervous system of mankind, or maybe something that replaced it. I mean, we're all somehow connected, we share some affection, and it manifests itself most of all through works of art. But even in a simple story we may suddenly hear something that is addressed to us.

In your latest book about Dostoevsky as a philosopher and theologian, you touch upon how we tend to identify ourselves with our knowledge. This gives us the illusion of well-established knowledge, a built-in concept. Thus, the students' questions that undermine the concept, so to speak, instead of being perceived as opportunities for our own growth, are perceived as threats.

That’s true.

The range of reactions to follow is limited. Either we say that the student is stupid, they don’t understand, and so on. My question then is not at all theoretical – have you ever made such mistakes?

Of course, I have. Well, you know, at the very beginning, I worked at a school for two years after graduation, and only later I did a PhD. I was so green when I was working at school, I also worked with schoolchildren and students afterwards...

So you stay in touch with young people.

Sure, we host conferences on Dostoyevsky, for instance. This year is going to be the 21st or 22nd, I'm not sure. We've been doing this for over 20 years.  It’s a conference for schoolchildren, they prepare and read their projects on Dostoyevsky. I mean, we work with kids all the time in one way or another. And it is right out in the field.

I see.

The thing is, I don't know, maybe it’s an idiosyncrasy, I'm very excited when I'm offered a path that I haven't walked yet. That must have saved me more than once. Because I was very rigorous in terms of conclusions. But when someone asked me a question that could take me in a new direction, so to speak, I was never intimidated by it, because to me it's a pleasure. I know a lot of very good lecturers, some of them top-notch, who get irritated or frustrated by questions from the audience because they didn’t think them through in advance. I mean, they don't like to start thinking while they deliver a lecture. Looks like we tend to keep up appearances. The teacher keeps up appearances. What if we started to pay less attention to…

Appearances. (Laughter)

That is, let go of it and enjoy the ride!


Forgiveness is our next topic. Forgiveness and judgment are closely related. You wrote amazing lines, they’re so accurate in my opinion, let me read it, ‘He (God) does not judge us for what we have done to ourselves or others. He judges us for what we have done to Him. Like Sonya judges Katerina Ivanovna with her quivering shoulders.’ And there's another phrase in the next paragraph: ‘We will not be beaten with scorpions for our sins at the Last Judgment. But we will watch our sins beating Christ, like fever may beat Him.’ These are very powerful words. It's a very vivid picture of the Judgment. But then the question is, what is forgiveness? When they stop beating or what? 

Forgiveness is the right of the one who is beaten. That is, you forgive when you’re on the cross, you can forgive only your tormentors. And to convert the judgment into triumph... by the way, it always struck me that we say in Russian, the Dreadful Judgment.1


There is no such notion in European languages. They have the Last Judgement. 

The Last one, yes.

I asked this question in Italy, ‘Are you scared?’ I remember that there was a large audience, but only twenty people out of two hundred raised their hands. They have a completely different feeling of the doomsday. While for us it's exactly dreadful, and sense it as a kind of horror. So, I think that the Last Judgment may turn into full triumph, if we all forgive our offenses and torments. That is, if those who were offended, humiliated, shot dead and so on, pray for their tormentors - then all is forgiven. There is simply no other attitude to truly forgive. After all, Christ can only forgive from the Cross.

I see. 

And He does forgive. They beat Him, and He forgives them. This is the triumph. 

That judges us anyway. 

Of course, if... we're not... Well, what is this Last Judgment? It's reuniting. It's a whole new way of being when all are together. The way it's described in the revelation of John the Evangelist, the city...

The faces, you mentioned it.

Yes, the city decorated with jewels, and the jewels are us. The city needs no temple, because 'the whole city is the holiest place of God's presence'. So, that’s it. All is reunited, shaping a new infinite universe, where people feel each other, where everything is animated. We will flow, never ceasing to merge with everyone and everything, as Dostoyevsky says. He also says that the spirit will penetrate the matter up to its very edges. That is there will be nothing alive or animate. That is to say, this is an absolutely living city. In order to connect with the one whom you have offended, you share his feelings. That is, of course, the process of forgiveness... Dostoyevsky has a wonderful line in The Brothers Karamazov, when Mityenka was dragging Snegirev by his beard...

Yes, sure.

...So the little boy Ilya, Ilyushechka, as Dostoyevsky calls him, says to Snegirev: ‘Don't challenge him, all right? Don't challenge him to a duel. I'll grow up, I'll challenge him to a duel.’ Snegirev is a bit startled, he says, ‘Well, I have to give you a fatherly instruction.’ Then he adds: ‘Mind that it's not good to kill a man’, you remember? Then the boy says, ‘I won't kill him. I'm going to challenge him, throw him down, point my sword at him, and say: ‘I could kill you now, but I forgive you.’

Yes, I remember.

This is a story of forgiveness. I mean, I can't forgive you until you feel what I feel. The little boy managed to express it so literally, naively, substantially.  Otherwise, there is no channel for forgiveness, it does not reach you. So you have to feel this wound of mine as your own wound. And then I can heal it.

Then I have one more question. The idea seems accurate, indeed there is no other channel. But forgiveness needs a channel to unfold, in a profound and final way, in the sense of the Last Judgment. I remember talking to Zurab Mikhailovich Chavchavadze, whose father was under reprisals. So the whole family was sent to exile too. I asked him a question about the torturers of his father and he said he had asked his father about the man who had forced him to sign a confession and had said he would shoot his family and all that. His father replied that he had forgiven the man, because he didn't wish him any harm because of his unforgiveness... In that sense, there's also forgiveness, which... I mean he didn’t care at this point if the man had felt his wound as his own, he forgave him. But whether he will be forgiven, that depends, so to speak ...

Finally, we need forgiveness to heal our own wound. And if we do not receive it, if we do not have the reciprocal feeling, the one for the Last Judgment, then we do not know...

No, we don’t know. 

We know nothing about each other. 


Moreover, we don't know how the man lived with it afterwards... But this wound lives in me. I can cure any wound of mine only with forgiveness. There's no other way. Until I cover it with forgiveness, the wound will live inside me like an ulcer and ruin my body. This pain, resentment, other feelings. Thus, ironically, you won't heal until you forgive. The forgiveness will be received only if the other one was able to feel and experience this wound as his own.

Does this mean by and large that asking for forgiveness only makes sense when you have felt that wound as your own?

Well, generally speaking, yes. Our main problem is, we can't quit interacting with each other. We're all connected tightly. In the end, as soon as we take a step toward Christ, we take a step toward everyone at the same time.

Yes, we do.

To all people, of course. And it's not two steps, it's one. There is no other way to come closer to Him. So you have to learn to feel other people's wounds. Why, what else can we do?


Love is our next topic. Metropolitan Archbishop Anthony of Sourozh said, and you have quoted him, that love is defenseless. After the Fall Adam and his wife began with protecting themselves from each other, even with their clothes. It turns out that not only did man fall away from God, but in fact, they fell away from each other at once. 

Yes, I see.

Was it an attack on love?

It definitely was. Love connects. While there is something that divides us, that makes us feel that we can flourish at the expense of another person, like Adam.


The woman You gave me...

You put here with me, yes.

She gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.

Yes, ate it.

Do punish her and I will be fine.

Or even, it's Your fault, You let it happen.

Well, yeah, Your fault is something you read between the lines. But if You have to punish somebody, there she is. It's like, you just punish her, it won't hurt me if she suffers. This is something that many theologists call the second fall from virtue. There’s a tectonic shift at this point: I do not feel her pain anymore.  Yes, it is a destroyed love. Because love is something that makes us feel somebody else's pain first of all.

I think it was Yuri Lotman who said that we are all brought up in a deeply Christian environment. I don't know whether he was a man of faith, but the idea is very Christian, he said that a cultured person is someone who is hurt by someone else's pain. He said, we all have our own threshold. Someone feels pain when they are hurt. Someone - when they are hurt plus their relatives. Someone - when they are hurt plus their relatives, plus their friends. And then, when you feel someone else's pain…

Well, I think that this is the main feature of a Christian: being hurt by someone else's pain. Because a Christian is someone who removes the borders, the impenetrable borders between oneself and the others. I guess, this is the only thing that we need to nurture in ourselves.

But on the other hand, at the very beginning you had this wonderful example – well, I mean it was wonderful, because it was so vivid – a fight where three men are beating one person, and you cannot know why. Maybe they are protecting someone from him. And today I often see that... that the society has become very well informed - the social media and so on. People often say: I need to do this, I need to do that, and being hurt by someone else's pain is something that drives them. But this misunderstanding of the real situation makes them cause even more harm instead of improving it. I face it very often. How do you know how to act?

There’s nothing doing, we are learning. All of these modern communication systems, they have changed the world drastically within mere 10 years.


Now we have another nervous system that connects us, another system of networks, the social media. The nets aren’t always spider webs, they can also be nervous systems. We are learning. Of course, now we are like a loose cannon, we step on each other's toes, we want to make it better, but the result is always the same if not worse at times.


Yes. We fight for all that is good against all that is bad, but we destroy what is good as we struggle. It’s like growing pains. 

So, you believe that this is a learning process?

Exactly. I hope so. I hope that this is the learning process.

Tatyana, Jean-Luc Marion in his book, in the part dedicated to Augustine - one of the chapters was translated here - he writes that to know oneself is an ancient calling, well, he dwells on Augustine, but I think that sometimes there's more of Marion than Augustine there.

Well, as always.

Knowing oneself is knowing one's love. In a sense that within this act of thinking I own the subject of my thinking in a particular way. While in love, it's me who is owned by what I desire. And then, ‘I find myself through being loved.’  I think...

Well, Dionysius the Areopagite had something of the same kind, yes.

Exactly. Well, it's clear that this is basically not... And, well, Marion believes that Augustine addresses God and says, learn me, through this I... In order for me to know myself, in order for me to know how to love myself instead of only hating myself. And for me this reminds me of your idea that... when you say that humanitarian sciences are not exactly about knowing the world, but about knowing oneself. However, if I do not know, whether love is a condition for learning or its purpose, I do not quite understand how it intertwines with the scientific methods, either natural or humanitarian.

Humanitarian method, at least the way I describe it...


And in fact... when I was initially writing about it, I never though that I was writing about something entirely new. This is something that has always been there one way or another. But it turned out to be very demanded. Probably, no one talked about it for quite some time, or rather, no one talked about it so systematically. Actually, the humanitarian method is the very same approach of learning through love. I mean there is no other way of knowing live objects.

How do you give scores to [students]?

We do not join...

How should a score be given?

Oh, this is a pain for me.

It is also a very practical problem, because I teach cultural studies...

I understand.

By the way, you helped me a lot in a practical sense. I hope I managed to explain something there thanks to you. But I will have to evaluate it afterwards.

Yes. Actually... my recent experience in this regard: for 10 years I have been working in oil and gas, holding humanitarian courses for people without humanitarian background.


Tremendous experience indeed. And evaluation has always been a problem. What I did eventually to handle it. I decided to put A's to everyone who had their own thoughts and C's to those who didn't want to think or submitted papers downloaded from the Internet. Because we had already talked in class to those who had their own thoughts... it was a long way to go. You could even ask them something during the exam, it was always interesting. But it doesn't solve the problem. It was a kind of a mark at the end of the course. To be honest, I didn't want to have anything to do with those who didn't want to think for themselves or brought those downloaded papers. (Laughs).

Yes. I understand you like a bird of a feather in this regard. But I was wondering about the criteria within this, so to speak, system or approach. I mean, if I understand you right, there could be only two marks. It's either this learning act, subject-subject method, or you earn it and receive A in the end.


Because no matter, whatever the result is, each has one of his own.

Of course.

Either nothing happened, then sorry for that, and then, so to say...

Then you get C.

Then you get D.

Never to see each other again.

In your interviews and articles, you say again and again that Jesus becomes a closest second person to everyone. This way He lessens Himself to stand up to the level of this friend, not as a leader, so to say, but as a supporter for the other person, someone who participates in his life. And in fact, this following of Jesus is... it should give you this feeling of finding this second person. Is it hard for you to be the second?

Yes, it is, because... Now it became easier. Now it is easier. (Both laugh).


In fact, it is a big problem indeed, because I always try... Not that I try to put myself on the first place, but I always wanted to put my work - what I do - on the first place. And this was a really solid first place, a vantage point that I could use to spot all the intruders from afar. Yes. But eventually I started realizing that it doesn't matter what you actually do; what matters is that you do something that enables people around you to do what they do. And if you take at least a small part in it...

A small part.

... I mean, if you help it somehow, then you start following Jesus. We are learning.

We do. (Both laugh). Tatyana Aleksandrovna, I told you that I intentionally skipped questions about Dostoevsky, but we cannot leave them behind for good.

Yes, we shouldn’t ignore them.

I wanted to ask just a couple of questions. But let's start with Tolstoy. I've been re-reading Anna Karenina lately, not sure how many times reading it before. And all of a sudden – I don't know, what you'll think about it – at some point I had this strange fear. I was reading the book and it felt like I was reading Dostoevsky and not Tolstoy. But then I got through this part of the novel and thought, no, it’s Tolstoy.

Everything's okay.

This is still Leo Tolstoy. This calmed me down. But there are still some things that definitely... But what do you think, what do they have in common?

He does have a Dostoevskian scene in Anna Karenina. Dostoevsky spotted it too, and said: ‘There it was, this scene, but it ended and this turbid writing renewed afterwards.’

So, I'm not the only one who noticed it?

No. We are talking about the forgiveness, mutual forgiveness beside Anna's bed, when she gives birth and dies.

Yes, that’s right.

Then she somehow comes back to life and it all starts again.


Well, this was indeed a somewhat Dostoevskian episode. And he noticed it. It was Dostoevskian because it was written on the level that Dostoevsky had always been working on. Because Dostoevsky is always interested in the spirit. In fact, he doesn't know a thing about psychology. On the other hand, Tolstoy is an amazing psychologist. He reveals the deepest corners of the soul. Dostoevsky does not care for that at all.

You know, when I was re-reading the book, I thought that all the students of the Departments of Psychology should simply read Anna Karenina, because it makes everything clear. 

Yes, of course. All psychologists should read Tolstoy. They will be on the same page. While Dostoevsky simply confuses them even more. And does it in a very boring manner because he points at totally different things.

Still, my question was, what do they have in common, what's your opinion?

Yes. Similarities. I suppose that they both lived in very practical and experienced times that considered naivety a drawback. And both of them raised issues that could be considered naïve, and thought that it was impossible to go on living without resolving these issues. Tolstoy resolved them on one plane. Dostoevsky had another approach and he was resolving them on the other plane. You know, the ability to raise these issues makes them both priceless indeed. I think that we, as Christians, have to resolve the issues raised by Tolstoy first, and we should look at them exactly from the viewpoint that he used...

To raise them.

... Because it is much easier to resolve them if we move to another level. But there is always something that cannot be resolved by simply moving to another level, something that has to be resolved here and now, while we still remain in this so to say horizontal life. If we don't complement it with what we have on the other levels, then our Christianity isn’t worth a dime. It was all a kind of a role play game. It wasn't for real. Tolstoy lived it with all the, so to say, weight, our earthly weight and seriousness of a man that gets stuck in this and... I remember someone saying this great thing about him. Tolstoy is like a bull that doesn't know how to turn its head to the side...

To the side, right.

... it has to turn its whole body.

It's body.

Yes. And then it is going to charge in a completely different direction, leaving quite a path behind itself...


... for all those who follow. But he was dead serious and he got stuck in the things that we pass by without even noticing. All of us are like that...

Yes, agile, right.

... Agile, indeed.

And the last question. I have a version, well, maybe, it's not exactly mine, but at least I don't think that I read it anywhere, it just came to me. The well-known dialogue between Ivan and Alyosha, that it's not God that he doesn't accept, but it's the world created by Him, then this childish tear and so on.

Yes, I see.

I know that people dwell on the idea that Dostoevsky... how he answers, what he says. I think that it is Zosima who gives an answer to Ivan in A Lady of Little Faith chapter. You remember how she speaks about her doubts that it's unfathomable, she says, ‘Yes, it is unfathomable. You cannot prove anything. But you can be convinced by the experience of active love. Strive to love people and as you advance in love you will grow surer of the reality of God. This has been tried. This is certain.’ I presume, this is the answer. Dostoevsky first gives this answer to Ivan and only then asks the question itself.

In fact, he gives Ivan the answer and its...

Yes, indeed.

... its comprehensive... 


... Even in Ivan's own words.

Yes. But this experience of active love.

Yes, it is a good answer indeed.

I think it's the only one, because Ivan tries, so to speak, to unravel his thought and...

The experience of active love is exactly what I was talking about at the beginning.


It is, ‘God, how can I help you?’

Help, yes.

In other words, the experience of active love is the experience when this arm enters you. I really like this idea of metropolitan Anthony who said that the believer should be the surgeon's glove...

The glove.

... and the surgeon is the God. It is impossible for a man not to feel that the Hand of God has entered you, that God is acting through you to assist this person, yes, you are God, you are the face of Jesus, because you bring this person relief, love and so on. And then you do understand that God really exists, because you couldn't have done so well on your own. Because we are so weak, unless something bigger than us acts through us.

Here we are, coming to the end of todays program. Well, it's the end. Again we come back to the dialogue between Alyosha and Ivan. If we neglect the context, the text and regard it as a situation... Here is a man who tells a story of how the dogs were set on a boy. What should be done? Alyosha says, ‘they should be shot dead.’ Execution or mercy? Which one is right?

Alyosha wants to shoot them and this is a natural reaction of the reader at that point. We all agree with him.


But the issue arises when he says, ‘What I said was absurd’ right away.


The pace is too high, in any case we... Alyosha, being a Christian at the same time, understands what he has said, and when, and why it was absurd. Dostoevsky preemptively answers all of these questions...

But I'm not talking about Dostoevsky now.

Yes, okay, about...

I have a question to you. Which side are you on?

Oh, yes.

Let me repeat, we should forget about the situation. Imagine, someone will tell you a story and then ask, ‘What should be done to him?’

The conclusion was good: the general was afterwards declared incapable of administering his estates. You see, we're not...

You don't want to take sides, do you?

No. Because we cannot resolve the issue of being good by simply exterminating everyone who is bad. We have been trying to do that multiple times. Actually we - if we take a look at how Dostoevsky describes it all - we will see that we are standing in the general's shoes at that very moment. We are thinking that we are somewhere else, but there we are, exactly in his shoes. Because it is absolutely inhumane. It is inhumane to say something like, ‘What I said was absurd.’


It is human-like to say, ‘Shoot the slimebag and that's it.’


But this is just. And we were called upon to bring God's justice.

Thank you! This was Tatyana Aleksandrovna Kasatkina, philologist. And we will get back to drawing portraits, or parsuns, of our contemporaries in a week.